So Lance doped, Manti was duped and sports comes out the loser, again.
As it is, we’re conditioned to believe in fairy tales. The fairy tale wedding, the fairy tale romance, the fairy tale ending. But sports, in particular, can’t resist a good fairy tale headline: the fairy tale comeback, the fairy tale underdog, the fairy tale story of the perseverance and triumph of the human spirit in a game metaphorically representative of things much bigger.
Which is why we’re so hurt, so personally betrayed, when an athlete comes crashing down from our self-constructed marble pedestal, fairy tale and all.
And still we push onward, craving the next fairy tale story and continuing down this self-destructive path because, at the end of the day, at the end of the game, sports is transcendent. More so than most things.
An autistic high school basketball player whose four minute 3 point barrage endeared him to millions and made him a household name; a Miracle On Ice of the unlikeliest kind, which unified the entire nation for a winter in 1980; the relentless adoration of a professional basketball franchise stuck perennially in the NBA cellar, with unscrupulous owners, a sub-par record, a well-worn arena, a die-hard city that’s been given the death sentence more than once and a dire situation that has left Sacramentans with no choice other than to invest everything in the ultimate hail mary fairy tale.
An athlete, a championship, a franchise. All metaphorical representations of things much bigger.
And speaking of that last one, that franchise on the brink of elimination, that one is my heart-the reason for my intense, irrational (some might say), passionate love of The Beautiful Game. And for that reason, it’s impossible for me to write about this with the proper emotion and sincerity that it deserves because the words necessary to explain the intensity of the feelings behind this roller coaster of emotions-ranging from anger to betrayal to sadness to pride to hope-just don’t exist. And they especially don’t exist if I want to avoid every cheesy cliche ever used. I’ve been working on this post for five nights now, writing and re-writing, and I’ve decided that in the same way you can’t explain love to someone who’s never been in love, mere words can’t explain to you how I feel about what the Sacramento Kings mean to me.
Re-reading the above paragraph from a momentarily objective viewpoint, it sounds ridiculous. Especially to someone who didn’t grow up playing and watching sports. I can hear your collective thoughts, and I get it: It’s just a game. But it’s so much more than just a game.
It’s bigger than basketball. It’s bigger than 19 years of some of my best memories. It’s bigger than dreams about Mike Bibby’s game winner in game 5 and nightmares about Robert Horry’s game winner in game 4. It’s bigger than high fives with my dad in section 204, row B since the age of five. It’s bigger than Arco Thunder and the Bench Mob. It’s bigger than joining over 1,000 other Kings fans to listen to an impromptu Carmichael Dave radio segment at 12:00 AM on a Sunday night reassuring Kings fans that it’s not over-not be a long shot. It’s bigger than cowbells behind the Lakers bench. It’s bigger than ensuring that the retired jerseys of C-Webb, Vlade and Mitch keep their much-deserved home in the Arco Arena rafters. It’s bigger than Chris Webber’s proclamation on TNT that “The jersey’s not going down. Everything’s going to stay and we’re going to fight…it’s not over, Sacramento.” It’s bigger than Sign Lady. It’s bigger than a Mayor, who’s a Sacramento native and former NBA point guard, who declined Obama’s invitation to the Inaugural Ball because he’s #PlayingToWin for Sacramento. It’s bigger than those nights spent laying on the floor in the loft watching the games with my sister and mom. It’s bigger than the unification of Sacramento politicians because of a professional basketball franchise. It’s bigger than the local grassroots efforts of fans who’ve already pledged over $20 million in season ticket sales under new ownership. It’s bigger than Grant, Jerry, the G Man and Slamson. It’s bigger than all of these things because it is all of these things.
And more importantly, it isall of these things for most Sacramentans. Unlike just about every other professional sports city, we don’t have another big time college or pro sports team to turn to for solace. The Kings are the end all and be all. For a city which is the capital of the 8th largest economy in the world, most people can’t even place Sac on a map. But most of those people do remember the days when the Kings were the most exciting team in the NBA, contending for a championship year in and year out. Most of those people could tell you that C-Webb was the most dominant power forward in the game during those glory years. And they knew that Mike had ice water in his veins at the end of a game and that Peja had “Jimmer range” before Jimmer was even a twinkle in ESPN’s eye.
That’s not to say that the Kings are the only thing that makes us relevant, but for me, and most other people in this basketball-crazed city, the Kings are not only a large part of our identity, but they’re part of the fabric of the cloth from which we’re cut. I always wonder how I got so lucky ending up at the University of Kentucky, a school and state that cares about basketball and its team just as much as I do. Now I’m counting my blessings and wondering how I ended up in that same situation here. The Kings gave me the roots of my love for the game and now I’m getting a chance, along with my other tens of thousands of fellow Kings fans, to repay the favor in a powerful way so that hopefully my kids and my kid’s kids will have the fortune of those same roots.
So that is what the Kings mean to me and to this city- that vague description of things that only hold intense emotional weight to me. That’s my best effort at explaining why the thought of my team being unfairly ripped from us makes my eyes misty. (And if you’re interested in reading my message to the Maloofs in my best effort at a concise, honest and non-profane message to the infuriating owners who are trying their damnedest to lay one last haymaker to finish off a city that’s given them everything, and more, the past 15 years, scroll to the very bottom of this post.)
Despite a history of far more struggles than successes, we’ve continued to show up and show out, just as we’re doing now in the face of possible impending doom. Show me another fan base that continues to fill 70% of a decrepit arena in the midst of another lottery season and AFTER the sale of its team; show me a Mayor who’s put just about every other issue on hold while he fights for what he knows his city rightfully deserves; show me another city where this story is dominating damn near every air wave, radio wave, twitter handle and blog from media of every form. Show me another city that’s doing all of this and more, and then try and tell me that city deserves to have its team taken from them. Seattle lost its team in the same excruciating way (although, without equal intensity of political and grassroots efforts), so, yes, Seattle, you do deserve another professional basketball team. You deserve to have a team just as much as Sacramento deserves not to lose ours. And you know the agony of this conundrum better than anyone, which is why you’ll celebrate into the night, as you should, when an NBA team returns. Just know that it won’t be this year and it won’t be this team.
The glass Nike Hyperdunk is being fitted, the pumpkin-colored basketball is beginning to transform and our night in shining all-star uniform is setting us up for a movie-worthy fairy tale comeback. The shot clock hasn’t struck zero yet, and the game is far from over, but there are too many people who are pulling out every last stop and there too many fans who are too invested in this franchise for this fairy tale to come up short. This city’s efforts saved the Kings from becoming the Anaheim Royals in 2011 when everyone said it was “a done deal” and I have no reason to believe the outcome will be any different this time. This team has been a unifying force for this city and has revealed the character of Sacramentans, from Kevin Johnson down, and I couldn’t be more proud to associate with a team of people who refuse to lose, regardless of the “done deal” circumstances we’ve been given.
Sports have been in the national news for all the wrong reasons the past week and a half, but this story has a chance to make national news for all of the inspirational, valiant and admirable reasons our culture is so enthralled with sports to begin with. We are in the midst of the ultimate underdog fairy tale and I’ll be proud to take my future kids to Kings games (they WILL be Kings fans, dammit) because of the pride and ‘never say die’ attitude this city has gone all in with. Screw the white flag. I’ll take a purple flag with a SACRAMENTO Kings logo on it.
And here’s a reward for those of you (thanks, Mom) who made it this far. After hours spent watching hours of YouTube clips, I decided to eternalize some of them in my blog for my future enjoyment. So, here are some of the best memories I have of my 19 years of Sacramento Kings fandom. Some are more broad, some more specific. But all are awesome and still give me goosebumps every single time.
6: The Kings/Lakers rivalry was one for the ages. And it all started with the punch.
5: Ronnie Price’s dunk over Carlos Boozer. Probably the best dunk I’ve ever seen live, in person. It just came out of nowhere in the middle of a ho-hum game. Ronnie got a solid 45 second standing ovation afterwards as he shot his ‘and 1’ free throw.
4: Jason Williams. Known more fondly as White Chocolate. I wasn’t even in my teens when we drafted J-Will, so I never really got a chance to appreciate the unreal handles, passing and flair that he brought to the court. Watching his highlights now, I’d kill to have a guy like him to bring back that Arco Thunder. Bob Cousy -> Pistol Pete -> Magic -> J-Will. Hasn’t been another like him since.
3: The Greatest Show On Court. Chris, Mike, Vlade, Jason, Peja, Bobby, Jon, Scot, Hedo. The passing was flawless. The construction of the team was beautiful. The chemistry was unrivaled. It’ll be a long time until we see something this special again.
2: This one is hard for me to watch, but the potential final send off of Grant and Jerry after the last game of the 2011 season is priceless. The team was signed, sealed and all but delivered to Anaheim that year (sound familiar?) and after the game ended thousands of fans sat in Arco waiting, hoping, crying, chanting and believing that the team would be back the following year. Grant and Jerry’s emotional send off exemplifies what the Kings mean to Sacramento.
1: Hands down the best memory I have in my entire sports career (UK’s 2012 National Championship is a close second). My dad and I were there, in section 204 row B, to watch this game live. Mike comes around the pick and as he rises you can literally feel the air from the entire arena being sucked in. The ball goes through the net and I promise you, if the roof of the arena wasn’t cement, the top would’ve blown right off the place. By far the most beautifully deafening sound I’ve ever heard in my life.
Finally, to the Maloofs: You contemptuous human beings who pissed away the fortune your father built, ironically, on a foundation of customer service, integrity, loyalty and honesty. It’s a business, I get it, and technically you have the right to make a business decision. But when this unmerited business decision effects the lives of millions, when you mess with Sacramento’s team, the gloves will come off. It’s no secret that you’re broke and it’s desperation time because all your other sources of income vanished before your eyes, but what the hell did Sacramento ever do to you? Unless we count setting some of the NBA’s longest home sellout streaks in league history, putting up with your Ed Hardy playboy lifestyles all over Carl’s Jr. commercials, lobbying city council to work day and night to get an arena deal done, only to have you bail on your end of the deal at the last minute, or continuing to buy your over-priced merchandise, popcorn and tickets even when the team was horrible because you couldn’t afford to pay anyone other than mediocre role players and rookies. And in return for all that love and loyalty, you spend years dragging this city through the mud while you flirt with other possible suitors. And still we show up. You vehemently denied for years that the team was for sale and then like the snakes that you are, cut a deal in the dead of night to send the team to Seattle. And still we show up, stronger than before. Thank God that for the 6 of you buffoons that we’ve had to put up with for 15 years, we have someone like Mayor KJ to outwork and outclass all of you, combined. Tenfold. You might win in the end, but if nothing else, at least this city is now free of your incompetent, cowardly chokehold. So, in conclusion, good riddance to you. Don’t come back.